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Libya clashes continue despite UN ceasefire calls amid pandemic

Fighters of a military battalion loyal to Libyan General Khalifa Haftar patrol the streets in the eastern city of Benghazi during a state of emergency to combat the coronavirus, March 21, 2020. (File photo by AFP)

Despite calls by the United Nations for global ceasefires to focus on the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic, a new battle has erupted between Libya’s rival forces at an airbase outside Tripoli.

Residents of Tripoli said a shelling that was the worst in weeks hit the capital through the night.

Since 2014, Libya has been divided between the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and the camp in Tobruk, supported militarily by rebel forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, has been fighting to capture Tripoli from the GNA for almost a year. The GNA is supported by Turkey.

Pro-GNA forces said on Wednesday they conducted an attack against LNA forces at the al-Watiya airbase, 125 kilometers west of Tripoli, in response to the shelling of the capital.

A military source in the LNA said its air force had targeted pro-GNA forces trying to take the base. “Violent clashes are shaking al-Watiya airbase now,” the source said Wednesday.

On Monday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for “an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world,” as governments and local authorities struggle to cope with the pandemic.

Libya announced its first coronavirus case on Tuesday, a particular source of concern in the war-torn country, where fighting has badly affected the public healthcare system.

The country plunged into chaos in 2011, when a popular uprising and a NATO intervention led to the ouster, and later killing, of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

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